At 3:55 Tuesday morning Trump tweeted that flag burning should cost people their citizenship or a year in jail.
Never mind the fact that the Supreme Court (Texas v. Johnson) ruled that burning the flag is a First Amendment right, covered as free speech. Forget that the punishments Trump proposes are completely laughable -- a year in jail or loss of citizenship? Now elected as president, Trump is supposed to be leading the nation and bringing Americans together. Instead, he is setting the stage for a crack down on dissidents.
Trump's base already believes that undocumented immigrants and refugees are an inherent threat to the country, and this powerfully divisive statement is a dangerous expansion of who to fear. Trump has surrounded himself with a xenophobic, nationalistic, and militantly "patriotic" base and set of advisers. They will eagerly accept that anyone exercising their First Amendment rights to protest Trump is their enemy.
As crazed as it is though, this tweet is not out of the ordinary for Trump. In fact, it appears to be the logical extension to his concentration on weakening First Amendment protections. First, he attacked the media, saying he would open libel laws to make it easier to sue reporters who had said derogatory things about him (like quoting his exact words). Then he attacked the free speech of entertainers when the Hamilton musical cast dared to beseech Vice President-elect Mike Pence to represent all Americans.
Donald Trump will be president, barring a miracle, (and many are literally begging for that miracle). This single tweet may be the most dangerously unhinged statement he has ever made. You can not lose natural born citizenship in the United States unless "performing certain acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality." Among those acts are treason, serving in a foreign armed force, or applying for and receiving citizenship in a foreign country:
INA § 349 states that a citizen, whether a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization, shall lose his nationality by voluntarily performing certain acts with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality. The fact of intention is critical; it is not the mere performance of the actions mentioned in § 349. Seven types of conduct are currently listed in the INA as expatriative. The potentially expatriating acts are: (1) applying for and obtaining naturalization in a foreign country, provided the person is at least 18 years old; (2) making an oath of allegiance to a foreign country, provided the person is at least 18 years old; (3) serving in the military of a foreign country as a commissioned or noncommissioned officer or when the foreign state is engaged in hostilities against the United States; (4) serving in a foreign government position that requires an oath of allegiance to or the nationality of that foreign country, provided the person is at least 18 years old; (5) making a formal renunciation of U.S. citizenship to a consular officer outside of the United States; (6) making a formal renunciation of citizenship while in the United States and during time that the United States is involved in a war; and (7) conviction for treason or attempting by force to overthrow the U.S. government, including conspiracy convictions.
But the definition of "treason" is very different when Republicans are in charge. Remember the Dixie Chicks? They protested and their music was pulled by broadcasters. After 9/11, then-President George W. Bush and a compliant media used "patriotism" as a weapon against protest, too. Trump's tweet is a ham-handed attempt to start up that dynamic again, where the press and private individuals are afraid to protest. This must be met with resistance. We must insist on the sanctity of our constitutionally protected right to free speech.
We know that Trump is severely under qualified. He was reportedly surprised by the scope of his job, but this goes beyond that. He has literally set up a divide in our country that allows his faithful to treat fellow American protesters as the lowest "class" they can imagine. To set American against American in this way is not simply unpresidential, it is dangerous. By making "unpatriotic" or "distasteful" acts (as determined by Trump and Trump alone) tantamount to treason, he has taken one more step toward unrelenting Nationalism, and authoritarian rule: That way lies the thorny path of fascism.